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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 15 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 33
Tennessee judge upholds state marriage ban
Section One
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Tennessee judge upholds state marriage ban

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

For the first time in more than two-dozen court rulings, a state ban on same-sex marriage has survived a constitutional challenge.

Tennessee Circuit Judge Russell E. Simmons upheld his state's ban on Gay and Lesbian marriages in a ruling handed down August 5.

Simmons ruled in a case involving two Gay men, Frederick Michael Borman and Larry Kyle Pyles-Borman, who were married in Iowa in 2010 and are now seeking a divorce in their home state of Tennessee. He was unable to grant a divorce, Simmons said, because the men were never legally married under Tennessee law in the first place.

A 2006 voter-approved state constitutional amendment bars same-sex marriages and state recognition of marriages performed in other jurisdictions.

While the claims of the plaintiff couple were limited - all they wanted was a divorce - Simmons' ruling amounted to a sweeping defense of discriminatory marriage laws.

The judge based his decision on Baker v. Nelson, a 1972 case in which the U.S. Supreme Court granted summary judgment in favor of the state on Minnesota and against a same-sex couple who wished to marry there. The high court's subsequent ruling in USA v. Windsor, striking down DOMA, does not apply, Simmons wrote.

Even in its Windsor decision, 'The Supreme Court does not go the final step and find that a state that defines marriage as a union of one man and one woman is unconstitutional,' Simmons said.

'Further, the Supreme Court does not find that one state's refusal to accept another state's valid same-sex marriage to be in violation of the U.S. Constitution.'

Lawyers for the Gay couple had argued that Tennessee's ban on recognizing same-sex marriage violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but Simmons ruled that marriage bans serve a rational state interest - namely, procreation and the stability of family life.

Marriage 'simply cannot be divorced from its traditional procreative purposes,' the judge wrote.

'The promotion of family continuity and stability is certainly a legitimate state interest,' he continued.

'There is nothing irrational about limiting the institution of marriage for the purpose for which it was created, by embracing its traditional definition. To conclude otherwise is to impose one's own view of what a State ought to do on the subject of same-sex marriage.'

This reasoning is similar to that adopted by the Washington State Supreme Court in their 2006 Anderson decision, upholding this state's ban on same-sex marriage. That ban was later reversed by the state legislature and ultimately by Washington voters in the 2012 R-74.

The Tennessee couple seeking divorce may appeal through state court channels, or they may choose to wait for a federal appeals court to act. Tennessee's law against recognizing out-of-state same-sex marriages is currently before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in one of the cases heard at the appeals court's six-case mega-hearing on August 6.

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